HC Deb 26 May 2004 vol 421 cc1554-5
3. David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab)

What discussions he has held with the Irish Football Association regarding the implementation of a soccer strategy. [174923]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Angela Smith)

There have been ongoing discussions with the Irish Football Association—the IFA—at official level, leading up to the association's decision on 6 April 2004 to proceed with the implementation of the changes required under the soccer strategy. I met with the president of the IFA immediately following that decision, on 7 April, and discussions have continued since with officials, the Sports Council for Northern Ireland and the association. Terms of reference and membership of the soccer strategy implementation group have been agreed and the group, which includes representatives of the IFA, held its first meeting on 24 May.

David Taylor

Football has the power to forge links between divided communities and to combat the poison of the sectarian bigotry that led to the premature end of the International career of Neil Lennon, the former Leicester and now Celtic midfielder. Only last week, death threats were painted in the area around his home in Glasgow. Can my hon. Friend the Minister tell the House how much of the welcome £8 million that the IFA has dedicated to football in Northern Ireland will be used to develop the skills of all young players there and, in particular, encourage them always to play the game and never to play the man?

Hon. Members

Hear, hear.

Angela Smith

My hon. Friend can tell from the response from the House that we all entirely agree with his comments. I wish to put it on the record that I totally and utterly condemn the attacks on Neil Lennon, both in Northern Ireland and in Glasgow. In fact, Northern Ireland has been deprived of a talented international player. Sport has the power and the capacity to bring people together. The IFA has an officer dealing with sectarian issues, Michael Boyd, and it will bring forward proposals on youth development work that will address the situation.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South) (UUP)

The Minister will be aware that Windsor Park is in my constituency. Will she give an undertaking that the necessary finance will be forthcoming to upgrade the ground for the European matches, which will include games against Austria, Azerbaijan and Poland—not forgetting England and Wales—to meet the regulation standards? Will she also join me in congratulating the IFA and other sporting bodies in Northern Ireland that have campaigned to root out sectarianism in sport?

Angela Smith

I have had no official approach from Windsor Park to contribute to upgrading the facilities, but I hope that international games will continue to be played there. The hon. Gentleman will be aware of the proposals for the infrastructure of sport in Northern Ireland and, if a site can be agreed, a multi-sport stadium. I congratulate any sport that takes action to root out sectarianism.